The day after George Floyd’s funeral, Jonathan Veal drove from Houston and back to his Oklahoma City home still grappling with what had happened: his close friend – a brother, really – was killed by a Minneapolis police officer and the brutal video of his last moments had been viewed by millions.
The last time the two had spoken was just several months earlier, in January, when Floyd reached out to say happy birthday. They reminisced over their time playing basketball and football for Houston’s Jack Yates High School. Floyd told Veal about the new life he was setting up in Minneapolis, his efforts to become economically stable and provide for his family and shared that his faith had grown stronger.
At the end of the conversation, Floyd signed off: “With love from 88 to 42” – their old jersey numbers.
Veal and Floyd had been a lot more than teammates. They had become family. Alongside their other good friends Vaughn Dickerson, Jerald Moore and Herbert Mouton, they had spent most of every day together growing up and never lost touch. And now Floyd was gone.
Knowing they shared his pain, Veal reached out to his three friends and they began communicating every day – texting, calling, supporting each other, sharing pictures.
“But then, we were like, ‘OK, what do we do?’ We could find a level of closure but also, we could keep the legacy of our friend,” Veal said. “So that’s how 88 C.H.U.M.P. came about.”
The four men say they created the 88 C.H.U.M.P. nonprofit organization – Floyd’s jersey number and an acronym which stands for ‘Communities Helping Underprivileged Minorities Progress’ – as a way to keep Floyd’s legacy alive and address some of the challenges that the community they grew up in, Houston’s Third Ward, has faced for decades. They’ve launched initiatives to tackle systemic inequities, police brutality and opportunities for the inner city youth, among other efforts.
“We understand this is going to be a daunting task,” Veal said. “But we’re committed to it because Floyd gave that much to us.”
But the four weren’t the only ones galvanized by their friend’s killing. Across Houston, others who say they were lucky to know Floyd, the neighborhood’s “gentle giant,” have taken on new efforts in the past year pushing for change in his honor.
Dickerson, who still lives in Houston, said he had been thinking about creating an organization like 88 C.H.U.M.P. for nearly two decades. He finally shared it with Veal, Moore and Mouton after Floyd’s killing.
“We refuse to let one of our blood brothers from a different mother go out like that,” Dickerson said. “I know he’d be doing it for us, without a doubt.”
Immediately, the four hit the ground running, focusing initially on the November 2020 elections by conducting voter education and registration drives, including events in partnership with the Houston Texans – and helping residents of Houston’s Third Ward community make it to the polls on Election Day.
They set up conversations between the Third Ward community and the local police department. Over the summer, Veal said, 88 C.H.U.M.P. facilitated several dialogues in partnership with Houston police and the group plan to start another round of those conversations this summer.
But perhaps one of their biggest focal points has been the youth.
“We’re trying to actively get more kids involved with after-school programs such as computer literacy, teaching them how to write essays, math, social studies, science,” Dickerson said. “This is what’s needed for these inner-city youths to keep them active. If they don’t have no parks to go to, no boys and girls clubs, no after-school activities, what do you expect, they’re going to get in trouble.”
The group told CNN they’re hoping to set up scholarships for local high school students in Floyd’s honor and create programs that would introduce young adults to professionals and opportunities across different fields.
“It’s just something that we feel like we have to do,” Mouton said. “We have to keep (Floyd’s) name alive and we have to push these initiatives in his honor.”
Finally, 88 C.H.U.M.P. plans to kick off a fundraiser this month for a new football field in the high school they used to play for, a field they say hasn’t changed much in the past three decades.
Ultimately, the organization exists to help level the playing field for underserved communities, Veal said. It’s a long road ahead, he says, but one they’re willing to walk.
“There’s going to be a lot of emotions that come along with that, good, bad, ugly,” he said. “It’s worth it. It’s going to be difficult work, but it’s going to be worthwhile work, rewarding work.”
‘I just fight for him’
In Missouri City, just outside of Houston, Travis Cains says he’s channeled his pain from the past year into a fight for justice – a fight he says still isn’t over.
“My little brother.” That’s how he describes Floyd.
The two may have not been related by blood but Cains, who was four years older, told CNN he knew Floyd for more than 40 years and had always been by his side throughout multiple hardships, like when Floyd lost his mother.
“I fought for him all his life,” Cains said. “And I still fight for him as he’s dead.”
Days after the killing, Cains asked a local artist to paint a mural of Floyd in an area the two grew up in. Above Floyd’s image in the painting, are the words “forever breathing in our hearts,” written in the shape of a halo.
“I decided to bring him home,” Cains said. “Now the world can see … where he was really from, where his roots was from.”
In March, Cains spoke in front of the Texas House Homeland Security and Public Safety Committee in support of the Texas George Floyd Act, a sweeping police reform bill that among other things would limit arrests for misdemeanors like traffic stops and strip officers of their “qualified immunity,” a legal shield that can often protect officers accused of violating the Constitution while on duty. The Democrat-backed bill also requires that each law enforcement agency adopt a “detailed written policy” regarding their use of force. While parts of the package have advanced, the bill never made it past the committee.
“We just have to keep on pushing to fight for this act,” Cains said. “It’s sad that we even have to push for that, cause you see this in America daily – on a daily basis – that we’re still being killed.”
Now, Cains said he’s focused on fighting for human rights with the George Floyd Foundation in Houston.
“Everything I do, it’s to tell his story, tell his legacy,” Cains said. “I loved him, I loved him to the fullest and … I just fight for him. That’s what I do, me and everyone else that came in contact with him.”
“What was done to George Floyd was inhuman,” he added. “It hurts a lot, but it’s something that I have to go through every day. There’s not a day that I don’t sit and think about my friend.”
‘He stands for love and peace’
Others who didn’t know Floyd as well say he was a fixture in the community and remember his presence as they grew up.
Missouri City, Texas, Councilman Jeffrey L. Boney, said he went to school with Floyd and is now the president of the Jack Yates National Alumni Association. The group created two scholarships in Floyd’s honor, Boney said, one for high school students majoring in communication and another for those taking interest in social justice causes.
The latter, the George Floyd Scholarship for Social Justice, was awarded to three graduates of the class of 2020 in a ceremony earlier this year, he added.
“Our fallen lion,” Boney said, referring to the school’s team name, “George Perry Floyd Jr. passed away, was murdered, (and) we wanted to protect and preserve his legacy.”
Dexter Faircloth, who lives in Houston, said he had occasional conversations with Floyd as he walked to school, and he remembers the advice he’d always receive.
“Stay in school,” Floyd would say. At the gym: “Do your pushups.” And always, to everyone around him, Floyd would ask if they were doing OK, Faircloth said.
“A lot of people loved and respected him for his heart,” Faircloth said.
Faircloth founded an organization called Young Entrepreneurs Association several years before Floyd was killed, with the goal of raising political and financial awareness and community engagement in the Houston area.
After Floyd died, Faircloth felt their work was in something like a “state of emergency.” He helped organize and lead peaceful demonstrations in Houston and took to the streets to urge neighbors and friends to vote, often paying for people to make it to the polls.
“I literally went door to door, I paid for Ubers, I gave out all the information that I had to do this, because it’s so important,” he said.
Since the election, the organization has shifted its attention to submitting a proposal to local police to mandate that officers first spend some time in the communities they’re assigned to supervise, in effort to “establish rapport” and help build a relationship between authorities and communities.
The initiatives are part of a larger effort to educate the community and bridge divides between residents, local leadership and police, Faircloth said. Much of that change, he said, is happening in the name of the friend he lost.
“We watched God take one of ours and changed the entire world,” Faircloth said. “We miss him and we love him and we will never forget him and we won’t stop pushing for situations like this not to occur to none of his family members, none of our family, none of anybody’s family members.”
“George didn’t stand for racism,” Faircloth added. “He didn’t stand for brutality, he didn’t stand for violence. He stands for love and peace.”